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Adjusting Expectations: What to Do Next If Your Scores are Low or You Don’t Get into Your Dream School

Announcement! As of August 1, 2019, the TOEFL Reading, Listening and Speaking sections will be shortened. The TOEFL will also make changes to its prep materials and scoring system. Because of this, some of the info in our blog posts may not yet reflect the new exam format. We cover all the changes here.

You’ve twisted and turned through sleepless nights, wondered all day and night if you got into your dream school or earned high enough scores to apply, until the anxiety peaks and you get your scores or application letter. Those scores or acceptance letters will change your life.
Unfortunately, you didn’t get into your dream school. And those scores, they’re just not high enough. You may be asking yourself, what now? What’s the plan?
If your scores aren’t high enough, you can retake the admission exams. Be strategic in preparing for your next test by analyzing the first test. Which sections of the test need improvement? Did you sleep enough the night before? Did you go into the test with a lot of anxiety? Being a successful test-taker isn’t just about studying, it’s also about how you study and mentally prepare.

How Many Times Can You Take a Test?

SAT: You can technically take the SAT as many times as you want, but only seven test dates are offered a year.
ACT: You can take the ACT 12 times.
GMAT: The GMAT is offered five times a year and you can take a total of eight times.
GRE: You can take the GRE five times in a year and the paper exam as often as it’s available.
MCAT: You can take the MCAT three times in one year, four times in two years and a total of seven times.
TOEFL: You can take the TOEFL as many times as needed and around 50 test dates are offered a year.
IELTS: You can take the IELTS as many times as needed.
*Even though you can take tests multiple times, you will have to pay each time.

Studying and Practice Tests

It’s critical to study and do so wisely before retaking your exams. Read about the each exam, taking note of the sections, the time allotted, the layout, and the instructions. Identify the subjects you struggle with as well as the test format that might be difficult for you. Once you’ve familiarized yourself with the test and the areas for improvement, put together a study schedule. Utilize all the complementary practice tests available and take advantage of all the practice tests and study materials on Magoosh.

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Broaden Your Perspective

In addition to improving your test scores, you might also need to broaden your perspective and have a list of backup schools in case you don’t get into your “dream school.”
There are around 5,300 colleges and universities in the United States and of those only about 12 are considered ivy league. If you’ve only been considering ivy league universities, you are drastically limiting your options. Admissions into these schools is highly competitive and difficult. Plus, there are so many excellent schools whose programs are not necessarily ranked, but offer a great education and supportive environment. Larry Page, founder of Google, and Oprah Winfrey both attended state-run universities and they’re wildly successful.
What do George Lucas, Steve Jobs, and NASA astronaut, Eileen Collins have in common? They all attended community colleges. If you’re pursuing your bachelor’s degree, you might consider a community college. You can complete your first two years of your prerequisites for your bachelor’s degree at an affordable price and then transfer to a four-year university and complete your degree. You may even be able to transfer from a community college to an ivy league university like international student, Indira Pranabudi. She attended Green River College for two years and then transferred to Brown University as a junior!
If you didn’t get into your dream school, it’s okay, there are other schools. If you didn’t get the test scores you expected, it’s okay, you can retake the tests and explore other schools. The beauty of the American education system is that there are always options.

Jennifer Privette is the editor and assistant publisher of Study in the USA and

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